Mural, projection art pitched for downtown Wheaton

Compared to the vibrant displays of fruits, vegetables and flower bouquets, a retaining wall near the Wheaton French market is a relatively blank canvas.

That gray wall at the northwest corner of a sit-down market plaza would get a splash of color under a proposal by the Wheaton Fine and Cultural Arts Commission.

Advocates for more public art in the downtown have proposed a mural for the south-facing side of the wall at the junction of the Illinois Prairie Path and Main Street. Eventually, the commission also hopes to enliven the same surface with projection art.

If you’ve been to “Illumination,” the holiday lights show at the Morton Arboretum, you’ve seen how projection mapping makes a static wall of conifer trees appear to breathe or gently sway from side to side.

  Morton Arboretum’s “Illumination” holiday lights show uses projection mapping to display patterns on trees. John Starks/, November 2023

A large-scale example is the Art on THE MART series. In that spectacle along the Chicago River, moving images — photographs, paintings or graphics — dance across the building formerly known as the Merchandise Mart.

“We’re proposing something smaller here to cover that 55-foot wall, so you would have the mural during the day, but then at night, it would transform into something else,” said Randy King, a member of Wheaton’s arts commission.

  A retaining wall along the Illinois Prairie Path could turn into an art wall near the Wheaton French market pavilion. Brian Hill/, April 2024

The city council tasked the commission with presenting some options for an art wall west of the French market pavilion, a structure built during a downtown streetscape project.

King and Lewis Achenbach, the arts commission chair, introduced their ideas at a council planning session earlier this month. They recommend having Peruvian-Canadian artist Peru Dyer Jalea, also known as Peru143, paint the mural. He created the “SKOKIE” mural on a brick wall in that village’s downtown using his geometric, abstract style.

“He's prolific in what he does and has done this around the world,” said King, who showed Wheaton council members murals in Canada.

King suggested adding the projection mapping system “down the road” in a later phase of an art wall project.

“It’s becoming more and more commonplace because the projection systems are getting better and better, and you can make art anywhere,” King said.

The commission has talked about displaying student-designed projection art on the wall. Much like curating a playlist, projections could tie into downtown events.

“Definitely love the projection mapping,” city council member Mike Barbier said. “That looks so cool.”

The commission also gave a small demonstration of the digital projection possibilities for the art wall last Friday night at the culmination of the Make Music Wheaton celebration.

City council members are expected to revisit the art wall ideas at a future planning session.

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